The Herald: Computer system overdue

September 23, 2013 

South Carolina’s failure to install a computer system to track deadbeat parents is inexcusable.

South Carolina is the only state in the nation that has not complied with a 1988 federal law requiring a centralized computer system to enforce child support payments. After 16 years of failing to meet the federal deadline, the state owes more than $100 million in fines.

The project initially was delayed because the first contractor abandoned the job in 1997, causing a series of lawsuits. The state recovered about $17.6 million and was given an extended deadline.

But what followed was a long line of contract disputes, changing ownership of companies involved and more delays. The state has canceled its latest contract with Hewlett Packard, saying the company failed to meet deadlines.

Company officials say the delays are due to the state’s mismanagement. The dispute will go before a state procurement officer next month and, if not settled there, could end up in court.

Meanwhile, the fines continue to mount. Worse, the state still is stuck using antiquated methods to track the whereabouts of deadbeat parents.

The online system is designed to find parents who are behind on child support payments weeks sooner. This helps ensure that single parents, who often are struggling economically, get their money.

With the system in place, parents wouldn’t be able to avoid payments simply by moving out of a county or state. The system would alert officials in other states – through their computerized systems – and centralize 47 separate networks within the state that would be maintained by the Department of Social Services and each county clerk of court.

The program also would computerize the new hires of all employers and those collecting unemployment checks to track the ones who are behind in child support and garnish their wages. This would replace the current system that requires clerks to do the same work by sifting through paperwork by hand.

A computerized system obviously is faster and more efficient. And it’s not that difficult to install; 49 other states have done it.

South Carolina’s delay will cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and delay payments of support money needed by single-parent families. This issue should have been resolved years ago.

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